Morales and WorldPeace: grassroots obstenance 

All you have to do in the following article is to change Morales to WorldPeace.

John WorldPeace
The next governor of Texas
No more corruption. No more Monicas.
God Bless Texas

February 20, 2002

__________________

Everyman image carries Morales in Senate race
By Gary Susswein

American-Statesman Staff

Wednesday, February 20, 2002

INTERSTATE 35 NEAR WACO Driving south on the highway in his familiar white pickup one recent afternoon, Victor Morales popped in a mariachi tape and found a voice for his grass-roots campaign for the U.S. Senate.

"With money or without money, I always do what I want to do," the Crandall schoolteacher said defiantly, translating the Spanish crooner on the tape. "A boulder in the road showed me that my destiny was to go on and go on. And a goat herder told me that it's not about finishing first. It's about knowing how to finish." 

The song is called "El Rey." The King.

And as Morales who stunned the state by winning the Democratic Senate primary six years ago explained on the drive from Dallas to Austin, it's an anthem for his low-budget 2002 campaign.

A series of statewide polls had just shown him ahead of his four opponents with a month to go until the March 12 primary. He saw that as proof that his Everyman background and promise to give a voice to working Texans was striking a chord across the state.

But Morales is still waiting for validation from state officials and political analysts who dismiss him as a misguided political novice, unable to let go of his moment of glory and hell-bent on a campaign that will end up hurting the party.

Sure, he writes off those critics as jealous rivals, ignorant frauds or cowards who are afraid to go toe-to-toe with a real man. But their lack of acceptance still stings. It's helped create a chip on Morales' shoulder almost as big as his pickup and led him to identify with the popular Mexican song.

"It's saying that you are just as important as anybody else," Morales said of the tune. "You don't have to ask permission to run for the U.S. Senate. You don't have to go by the guidelines of the establishment to know that you are fit to be a U.S. senator."

And that's what Victor Morales is out to prove this year. Again.

The 52-year-old geography teacher and track coach is running against U.S. Rep. Ken Bentsen, former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, Austin lawyer Ed Cunningham and perennial candidate Gene Kelly in the primary, which will likely be followed by an April 9 runoff. The winner will probably face Republican Attorney General John Cornyn in the November race to replace retiring Sen. Phil Gramm.

As he spends his weekends meeting with small groups of voters across the state (weekdays are still devoted to his full-time job), Morales tells anyone who will listen that he is what most of those others are not: a real guy who has worked hard, balanced a checkbook, raised a family and is beholden to no one but himself.

He refuses money from political action committees, except those directly affiliated with the Democratic Party or candidates, and talks about ending tax breaks for wealthy individuals and large corporations. He also speaks about improving education, helping immigrants and reforming Social Security.

He has not developed detailed positions on many of these issues but says his stint on the Crandall City Council from 1994 to 1996 has prepared him for legislating.

"I dealt with infrastructure. I dealt with the budget. I dealt with negotiations, but on a real level," he said. "I could see the results every day."

Early struggles


To explain his campaign message, however, Morales likes to go back much further and talk about his childhood in Pleasanton. His father left home when Morales was 13. Morales was forced to pick squash in the fields and take on other low-paying jobs. And he said he endured racial discrimination, most notably when a barber humiliated him by refusing to cut his hair.

Morales left San Antonio Junior College for the U.S. Navy in the early 1970s so he could send a monthly paycheck home to his mother and three brothers and sister. After he came home, he graduated from Texas A&I University and found his calling as a teacher.

His 1996 bid for U.S. Senate began almost on a whim, as he set out to show his students that it was possible to take on an out-of-touch political establishment. He took a year off from work, traveled 80,000 miles in his white Nissan pickup and beat two sitting U.S. House members in the primary.

His unlikely story connected with many Texans as Morales received 2.4 million votes, about 45 percent of the total, against Gramm that November.

"He said the things that really affect my life, and my life is no different than other people's lives," Annie Dickson, 53, the first African American to sit on the Garland City Council, said at a Morales campaign stop at a recreation center recently. "He comes across as a very honest man."

A couple of hours later, Morales got similar feedback from Laura Torres, the drive-through teller at a Waco Whataburger where he stopped en route to Austin.

"You're Victor? No fooling? For real? Can I have your autograph?" Torres screamed as Morales pulled up in the white truck.

That sort of following, Morales said, is what inspired his unsuccessful follow-up bid for Congress in 1998 and his decision to run again for Senate, despite his wife's reservations and the fact that he still has two teens at home.

"It's a great feeling," he said, after signing a campaign poster for Torres. "How can you not be touched? I think of what I could do if I were a United States senator."

Many observers, however, say Morales will never find out.

They say he doesn't have the experience, support or fund-raising abilities he has raised only $8,000 for this election to beat Cornyn in November. He has also failed to file financial reports required by federal law, according to news reports Tuesday.

Critics say he may win the primary, thanks largely to having a Hispanic name in a year when two Mexican American candidates for governor (including Dan Morales, who is not related) will guarantee high Hispanic turnout. But such a victory would keep more serious candidates such as Bentsen and Kirk from taking on Cornyn in November and keep Democrats from winning the seat, those critics say.

"He's a good fellow, but the truth is Victor's a joke. He has no money. He's not campaigning much. He's riding the coattails of two previous elections. . . . He basically becomes cannon fodder for the Republican nominee," said former U.S. Rep. Jim Chapman of Sulphur Springs, who lost to Morales in the 1996 primary and now backs Bentsen. "The U.S. Senate is not a place to go to learn how to work. It's not kindergarten. It's not a warmup. It's the real thing, and Texas doesn't need a joke in the U.S. Senate."

Harsh words


University of Texas political scientist Bruce Buchanan, who has no ties to any of the candidates, calls Morales the wild card in what would otherwise be a head-to-head battle between Kirk and Bentsen.

"He's also a wild card because I'm not sure to what extent the voters know he's a guy who's had a chance already and who's viewed as being somewhat quirky," Buchanan said.

Such talk not only irks Morales, it lights a fire in his belly. It drives him to prove his critics wrong once and for all and, seemingly just as important, to expose them for what he believes they really are.

"They dislike me so much because I beat them, because I'm not one of them," he said, repeating what has become a theme in interviews and appearances. "They not only want to see me lose the United States Senate, they want to see me disappear from public life."

The "they" seems to include most of the political and media establishment, anyone who hasn't shown him the respect he believes 2.4 million votes in 1996 should warrant.

He mocks politicians who talk about overcoming adversity that, as Morales tells it, could never have approached the hardships he endured as a child in Pleasanton.

He rails against newspaper editors he said were too chummy with Gramm in 1996 ever to consider endorsing Morales, and reporters he says treat him like a novelty act.

And, six years later, he's still angry that Gramm wouldn't debate him.

"He's not a man. That's why I have no respect for him," Morales said, adding that the outgoing senator wouldn't be able to keep up with him on the campaign trail. "He wouldn't last a month with me. He'd be crying for his mama."

Morales has similar words for Henry Cisneros, the former San Antonio mayor who has endorsed Kirk for Senate.

In fact, Morales is hard-pressed to name any politician he's ever admired or respected. After thinking for a moment, he offers the name of the late U.S. Rep. Henry B. Gonzales of San Antonio, although he is quick to add that he is not in awe of Gonzales' legacy.

The real heroes, Morales says, are people like Martin Luther King Jr., who died for their beliefs, and the everyday working folks Morales meets on the campaign trail.

"You hear about all these people discovering the real heroes are police officers, firefighters. Where have they been? I've always known that," Morales said, repeating another campaign theme: that he was talking about the important issues long before anyone else.

Morales says he was teaching his students about the Taliban last summer. That he supported placing federal marshals on airplanes before Sept. 11. That he discussed problems with pension plans and corporate influence in Washington well before Enron collapsed.

The message in these tales is clear: Morales was smarter than the supposed experts, and they should have listened to him.

Even President Bush has borrowed heavily from Morales' success, he says, by talking about strengthening relations with Mexico, improving after-school programs and reaching out to minority voters.

"I'm way ahead of Bush," Morales said. "They had people following me with a tape recorder in 1996."

At the campaign stops he made in Dallas and Garland last week, there didn't appear to be anyone from his opponents' camps on the prowl only a handful of people at each location, many of whom said Morales is right on the mark.

"He's an awesome speaker," said Monica Wood of Dallas, an activist who listened to Morales at a statewide meeting of liberal, grass-roots Democrats that attracted about 20 people. "He's lived the life we've lived. He's not in some ivory tower."

Morales says that he hears that all the time and that his supporters often urge him to run for president. Among the greatest tributes he's received is from a pair of Mexican American union members in Dallas who wrote a folk song called "Corrido de Victor Morales," which talks of him leading his people.

Morales keeps a tape handy in his truck. And as he drove down Interstate 35 that recent afternoon, he was quick to pop it in his tape deck as soon as "El Rey," his mariachi song, had ended.

Asked if that kind of adulation embarrasses him, Morales just shrugged and said it shows that real people are proud of him, a truth he says his critics just don't understand and never will.

"How can they say I'm a loser," he asked, "and that I have no business running, if I do that for the people of Texas bring them back and give them hope?"


gsusswein@statesman.com; 445-3654.